Helping patients with work-related mental health conditions

Danielle Mazza

18/05/2021 12:21:15 PM

Navigating the process can be challenging, but there are resources GPs can lean on.

Portrait shot of a miner
Patients often have to navigate a more complicated recovery pathway when mental health conditions have developed or been exacerbated by factors related to work.

Between March and September 2020, more than 7.2 million mental health related services were subsidised through Medicare. By September, this represented a 14% increase in mental health services from the same time in 2019.
The increase in mental health conditions reflects a community-wide instability as a result of COVID-19. Changes in employment and social interactions, moving to remote work or education and for some, first-hand experience dealing with the COVID-19 virus itself, have all been contributing factors. 
However, where these mental health conditions have developed or been exacerbated by factors related to work, patients must navigate a decidedly more complicated recovery pathway that may involve engaging with their employer and/or workers’ compensation processes.
In Australia, GPs are one of the most trusted sources of care and advice for people with mental health conditions. 
We undertake the initial assessment, initiate a management plan and provide ongoing care and referral. Where mental health conditions have arisen because of work-factors (or work-related mental health conditions), patients rely on GPs to not only offer advice about the compensation claims process and compensation schemes, but also form judgements about the work-relatedness of a mental health condition, and advocate on their behalf for changes in employment conditions or work participation.
But because work-related mental health conditions can be more difficult to identify and assess than physical injuries, some GPs experience clinical challenges in this area, which can result in further adverse impact on patients.
Clinical challenges exist at all stages of care and include: 

  • identifying appropriate diagnostic tools
  • determining the severity and work-relatedness of a mental health condition, and managing the implications of labelling the patient with a work-related mental health condition
  • determining optimal treatment approaches and recommending work participation
  • ambiguity of communication pathways within compensation schemes
  • difficulties navigating compensation systems. 
These challenges can result in delays with the mental health claims process, access to specialist care and slower recovery for patients. 
RACGP-endorsed clinical guidelines exist to help GPs deliver optimal care for patients with work-related mental health conditions and can help provide invaluable assistance for GPs, their patients and the broader health system.
Without adequate evidence-based guidance for the diagnosis and management of work-related mental health conditions in general practice, patients may take longer to recover and return to work. They may also develop comorbid mental health conditions, or not respond to treatment as they should.
Whilst these guidelines are a valuable first step to assisting GPs to diagnose and manage work-related mental health conditions, overcoming the challenges described by GPs when dealing with these conditions requires nuanced and tailored support.
We’ve therefore established the ‘Implementing work-related Mental health guidelines in general PRacticE’, or the IMPRovE trial, to help implement the guidelines into clinical practice.
While the original guideline has been well-received, we hope it will show it to be effective, with a positive impact on patients.
Log in below to join the conversation.

compensation mental health

newsGP weekly poll As a GP, how concerned are you about the health impacts of climate change?

newsGP weekly poll As a GP, how concerned are you about the health impacts of climate change?



Login to comment